I’m not sure how long it’s been around, but there’s a new video-on-demand site that’s worth noting. Jaman offers a wide range of video content from a variety of distributors, covering such fields as Bollywood, classics, comedy, drama, documentary, horror, kung fu, sports etc., also categorised in various ways: collections, staff picks, most popular etc. Films are most for rent; that is, payment (£1.99 is the usual figure) for a seven-day viewing, online or downloaded. Some titles are available for purchase (download). However, there are a number of free titles (supported by advertising), among these being the silent films on offer. From what I can discover (there isn’t a ‘silent’ keyword you can search) the films are Nosferatu and Buster Keaton’s Go West, Battling Butler, Sherlock Jr., College, Seven Chances and Steamboat Bill Jr. The source of all the silent titles is a company called Echelon, and they come with a variety of music scores (organ, small band etc).
Jaman comes with the usual array of web 2.0 features: comments, ratings, community features, personalisation and so forth. It’s a very impressive presentation (interesting to see that the BFI has cottoned on to it quickly and has put up a number of its own leading productions – Distant Voices, Still Lives, The Draughtsman’s Contract etc), though do note that owing to licensing issues different titles are available in different territories. Some real gems lie among the sound films on offer, by the way (for this UK viewer at least): The Third Man, Stagecoach, The Blue Angel, Bucket of Blood, Ivan Passer’s Born to Win, Satyajit Ray’s sublime Home and the World…
Jaman is not the only video-on-demand service out there specialising in indie/art house content. The Martin Scorsese-backed The Auteurs, launched at Cannes this year, is a ‘virtual cinematheque’ of world cinema with an amazing range of titles that is genuinely connoiseurs’ stuff. Again most require payment (£3 is the usual price), and again different titles are available in different territories. There are free films as well (you have to register with the site to see any of them, unlike Jaman), though no silents are included among these. The silent films that you can pay to see are Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Der Golem, Der Letze Mann, The Lost World, Battleship Potemkin, Strike, Faust, The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty, Metropolis, Storm over Asia and Spione. The Auteurs (the dreadful name is the only bad thing about it) comes with excellent background notes, curated programmes, a forum and so forth. Unlike Jaman, where the print quality is variable, The Auteurs prides itself on top-notch presentation, and the few I’ve seen so far certainly live up to that.